When Lego announced in June that they were releasing a new line aimed at girls featuring female scientist minifigures, social media fizzed away excitedly for weeks like a bubbling lab experiment.
The notably-devoid-of-pink set was the brainchild of Swedish geochemist, Dr Ellen Kooijman, who submitted her plan to the Lego Ideas website in the hope of convincing the brickmakers to develop a range of Lego women seen in a professional environment, rather than the usual play or partying scenario.
Ellen’s proposal reached the 10,000 votes needed to put the design into production, and the ‘Research Institute’ was born – a set including a female astronomer with telescope, a chemist in a lab and a paleontologist with a dinosaur skeleton.
Around the world, females, Lego fans, and…ah… female Lego fans rejoiced.
You see, earlier this year a handwritten letter to Lego written by 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin went viral, urging the company to “make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?!”. In it she states that: “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs, but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.”
For many, Charlotte’s letter really hit home. We all know and love the retro Lego character ‘80s-something Space Guy’, but that’s just it – he’s a guy. There have been lots of female astronauts, so why is there no ‘80s-something Space Girl’? Women have sadly been dramatically under-represented in the world of snap-on helmet hair and rigid yellow c-shaped extremities.
Taking Lego to task on their gender stereotyping isn’t exactly a new pastime. The launch of their ‘Friends’ range for girls back in 2012 was met with controversy, as it relied heavily on pink and other pastel colours, included slim, Barbie-like characters with patterned clothes and accessories, and seemed much more prescriptive in terms of play suggestions than the old primary-coloured gender-neutral bricks.
The contrast of girls being encouraged to role play getting their hair done, drinking lattes, and baking cupcakes, as opposed to boys who were building rocket ships and putting out fires, was too much for some. A petition of over 50,000 names lead to a meeting with Lego, and the company agreed to improve their gender representation across their product lines and website.
And to their credit, they seemed to have listened… although maybe they haven’t listened quite well enough.
You see, when the new ‘Research Institute’ set was released this month, Lego faced criticism for painting waists on the female figurines to give them an hour-glass shape. And the toy scientists are also wearing make-up, something that Kooijman disapproved of on her blog, stating: “I strongly discourage wearing make-up in the lab, because it may cause contamination of the samples.”
But the biggest condemnation has been that it now appears the sets are only ‘limited editions’ and will not be put into normal mass production. At launch, they sold out immediately at all major retailers, and sets are now going for three times their original price online, so it’s clearly not a ‘demand’ thing.
So, after all this hoo-ha, have Lego actually learnt anything, or have they just been paying lip service to the cause? In the real world, female scientific talent may appear limitless, but in a Lego laboratory the girls haven’t quite managed to smash the Lego ceiling just yet.
Come on Lego! The prominence of professional females in the workplace isn’t just a flash in the petri dish. Women in science are here to stay. Please make your scientific minifigures follow suit!
To lobby Lego to change their minds and make this female Lego scientist set a permanent fixture, you can sign a petition here.